Chickens in the garden can provide some wonderful benefits to your garden plot. They can also be a disastrous force of nature when it comes to gardens. While you undoubtedly can let chickens roam free in your backyard, chicken owners need to be prepared for the kind of destruction they can cause.
There are numerous things to consider before unleashing your chickens in your garden, such as the amount of space, care and type of food that they require. While backyard chickens are gaining popularity, there’s a lot more hard work that goes into raising happy and healthy chickens than you might think.
9 Benefits of chickens in the Garden
1. Chickens can be used as a form of natural weed control, eating the weeds and leaving your garden looking neater.
Chickens are natural foragers, and they will gladly Peck at any weed that crosses their path. In addition to keeping your garden beds looking neater, this can also help to prevent the spread of weeds. Chickens eat the seeds of many common weeds, such as dandelions and thistles, before they have a chance to take root. As a result, having free-range chickens in your garden can be an effective form of natural weed control.
2. Chickens are great for natural pest control
Chickens are a great addition to help control pest populations. They love eating anything from slugs and snails to caterpillars and flies, which makes them perfect for this job!
3. Chickens can help soil aeration in your garden.
Backyard hens are an excellent living tool for working the soil in your garden. They can help mix up loose material and scratch and loosen clumps of dirt that would otherwise remain obstinately resistant to cultivation, thus aerating and improving the soil as they do their thing.
4. Chickens provide a natural fertilizer
Chickens will add fertilizer to your garden as they scratch and dig around looking for food. Chicken manure is an excellent fertilizer for your garden. Not only do they provide natural nutrients, but also help improve plant growth!
5. Chickens can help prepare the ground for planting by scratching up the soil.
Not only do they aerate the soil but they also till it, loosening the topsoil and scratching in their droppings. Making the perfect planting environment.
6. Chickens will eat fallen fruit and vegetables, keeping your garden clean.
Lets face it, chickens will eat just about anything which makes them a useful addition to any fruit or veggie-producing garden (as long as they are kept out of beaks reach of your vegetable garden.
7. Chickens will eat your leftover food scraps.
It’s a good thing chickens are so forward-thinking! They’ll happily chow down on your leftover (appropriate) food scraps, making sure that nothing goes to waste. This is extra beneficial if you need to clear out old, gone to seed veggies from the vegetable patch.
8. Nitrogen source for the compost pile
chickens can also help to fertilize the soil and compost area. Their droppings are rich in nitrogen and other nutrients that plants need to thrive. So, when added to organic matter such as kitchen scraps and grass clippings in compost bins you will get some MAJOR compost. Making your plants healthier and more vigorous, producing amazing fruit and veggies come harvest time.
9. Chickens can be a fun and interesting addition to your garden, providing you with fresh eggs and hours of entertainment.
Can You Have Chickens Roam Free In Your Garden?
Many people keep a small flock of pet chickens in their backyards with no problems. However, whether you can have chickens in your backyard will depend on several factors. The size of your backyard is a significant factor in whether you can have chickens or not.
You will also need to look at the kind of fencing you have, the type of predators surrounding your area, and what kind of neighbors you have. Below I have compiled a list of everything you will need to consider before you can allow your feathered friends to roam freely around your yard.
The Size Of Your Garden
For your chickens to remain at their happiest and healthiest, they will need a considerable amount of space to allow them to roam around freely and forage for food. Chickens need a minimum of 12 square feet of space per chicken, depending on the breed and size.
More aggressive and larger breeds, like the Rhode Island Red breed, will need double the space a regular sized chicken such as the Barred Plymouth Rock breed needs, as a smaller backyard can leave them feeling trapped and unsettled. A smaller area may make larger and more aggressive chicken breeds lash out and bully each other.
Average-sized chicken breeds may show signs of distress, such as pulling their feathers out. High-stress levels amongst your chickens could also lead to a decrease in egg production. Your chickens’ mental and physical health depends mainly on how much space you can provide, as diseases often spread in close quarters.
The chicken coop has to be safe and secure, depending on the area you live in animals such as foxes and cats are a potential threat to your chickens. Making sure that there is no way for a predatory animal to get inside the coop is crucial.
Not to mention the hens should be locked up at night time to further prevent the risk of being eaten. Hens are capable to defend themselves, especially in high numbers however its best to be safe.
Chicken fences: The Type Of Fencing In Your Backyard
Before you can allow your chickens to roam freely in your garden, you will need to ensure that the area is enclosed with roughly an 8-foot fence, to prevent your chickens from escaping and protect them from predators.
A high enough fence so your chickens cannot fly over it, and one with either chicken wire boards that will not allow the chickens to squeeze through is essential to ensure your chickens do not leave your yard.
The Kind Of Neighbors You Have
Unfortunately, what type of neighbors you have can influence whether it is a good idea for you to have backyard chickens. If you and your neighbor aren’t on good terms or frequently complain about anything you do, it would help if you spoke to them first before deciding to have backyard chickens.
An unfriendly neighbor could complain about anything from the noises your chickens make to the smell they create or the predators and bugs that having chickens could attract.
Backyard Chickens: The Benefits
There are a few benefits to letting your chickens roam around in your backyard instead of keeping them locked away in a chicken run or chicken house.
Feeding Them Won’t Be As Expensive
Letting your chickens roam around in your yard will help you save money when buying expensive chicken feed.
The reason for this is that if your chickens can forage in your backyard for their food, they will not need as much chicken feed to keep them fed. It is easier to let chickens roam your yard and forage in the ground for food instead of having the entire feeding duty fall on you.
So, not only are you saving money from not having to buy eggs, but you’re also saving on the costs to keep your chickens fed!
Backyard Chickens Produce Better Tasting Eggs
Letting your chickens roam around in your backyard will help them to produce nutrient-rich delicious eggs which have a darker yolk.
The main reason for this is that your chickens will be getting a more rounded diet in line with their nutrition needs. Allowing your hens to forage in your yard means they can eat a combination of insects, greens, and their feed.
A good diet will ensure that the eggs your chickens lay are more nutrient-dense, and there is a possibility that the eggs might taste better.
Backyard Chickens Are Happier And Healthier
Free-range chickens have more room to move around, which means they can get in some exercise. Obesity can become a health concern for chickens that are unable to walk around and forage for themselves.
Your chickens will also be happier in a more natural environment. Allowing your chickens to roam around in your yard will give them a sense of normality, as they will be able to forage for food themselves, walk around for exercise, or take a dust bath which can help with controlling the spread of parasites.
Disadvantages Of Having Backyard Chickens
While letting your chickens roam free-range in your yard has been all sunshine and rainbows until now, there are a few disadvantages to having backyard chickens.
They will damage your yard – If you enjoy gardening and are incredibly proud of your flower beds in your own garden, it might be best if you avoid letting your chickens run free. Chickens have natural instincts to peck and scratch in the ground, which will inevitably damage your yard. A hungry chicken will eat anything and everything edible. So it may be best to only allow them into a certain garden area – especially in the growing season or when young plants are growing.
Your chickens may attract predators – If you live in an area populated with predators such as hawks or coyotes, you may spend considerable time ensuring your chickens are protected as they could attract predators in the area. You will need to inspect your fence for damage or holes regularly. Unfortunately, keeping your hens safe from owls or hawks is much harder.
Your hens could lay eggs in inconvenient places – If you bought hens for the benefit of free eggs, you might have to go on a chicken egg hunt every day to gather fresh eggs. Backyard chickens enjoy laying their eggs in strange places, which can be inconvenient if you do not have the free time to search for eggs.
Having free-range backyard chickens is one of the best ways to keep your chickens happy and healthy and get as many nutrient-rich eggs as possible, as having healthy and happy chickens will speed up egg production.
David Cameron is a passionate chicken enthusiast. Growing up, he always wanted to be a veterinarian and loved animals. After graduating from veterinary school, David spent over 40 years as an equine veterinarian. He and his wife retired a few years ago and moved to North Carolina. Here, David’s love of chickens grew even more – he now has 7 chickens and 6 quail. If you have any questions about chickens, feel free to reach out.